There are two types of stands in the Kruger: those along the fence and the rest. We unhitched at three camps in the north of the Kruger to see what the difference is.
The north of the Kruger National Park is quieter than the south and also farther away from big cities like Pretoria and Johannesburg. It’s elephant and buffalo country, and the lush Bushveld that you find in the south makes way for fields of mopane trees.
When you camp here the stands next to the fence are first prize – just like in the rest of the Kruger. At Satara you can be one of the lucky 20 or so who pitch camp right next to the 300 m fence, but at Shingwedzi things are a bit different: The 26 stands next to the fence are allocated beforehand and you pay extra for the privilege to camp closer to the animals. Far north in Punda Maria there’s a bird hide right against the fence and you’re not allowed to pitch in certain parts next to the structure.
Anyway, you can count yourself lucky if you manage to bag one of the crowning jewels next to the fence because they are extremely popular. But if you don’t it doesn’t mean your holiday in the Kruger needs to be any less enjoyable. >
SATARA In the open
Satara is synonymous with big cats such as lions, leopards and cheetahs, and as you approach the camp colossal yellowgreen fever trees stand out from the rest of the veld. The office, restaurant and shop are next to the trees and they are Satara’s hub of activity. Don’t drive with your caravan in tow to the office’s parking area because no provision has been made for it. Where you would turn left to the parking area, turn right to the larger open parking area where the tour busses park. The campsite is half a kilometre further on, past the pool, filling station, and chalets. You can divide the camp into three parts: There are two sections to the left and right of you (each with an ablution block) and then there is the strip a bit further on that lies next to the fence, also with an ablution block.
If you’re considering one of the fence stands, first drive along the fence to see if you can find a spot. When we were there all 21 were taken, with the exception of one. The last two stands are reserved for people with medical needs (it’s one of those that was open). Judging by who camps with what next to the fence, your chances of getting one of the stands are better if you have a caravan because we spotted only three dome tents.
Of the 100-plus stands, those with electricity are to the right and left of you as you drive into the campsite, and the trees in the camp are fairly sparse if you’re looking for a shady spot. Try getting a spot close to the bathrooms near the fence if you prefer newer facilities. There’s neat slate around the sunken basins and behind those are mirrors against the wall. The shower cubicles are unfortunately very small and you can only close the door once you’re in the middle of the shower. It’s nice to have a wet and dry section in a shower but the curtain can be bothersome and blow towards you when you open the taps.
Even if the campsite is fully occupied, the layout is so that you won’t fall over anyone’s feet. There’s a feeling of spaciousness and you don’t have to try squeeze your towing vehicle in somewhere. That’s not the case in the front row however; here you’re right on top of your neighbour.
The fixed steel braais are spread out randomly, as are the electricity sockets. The shiny copper taps at the kitchens are a perfect example of how clean SANParks’ people keep the facilities.
A paved road runs around the camp and looks a bit like a running track. And it’s just as big – one morning a couple actually did a few laps around the camp in their jogging clothes. Considering SANParks’ standards, the pool is modest – about as big as a round farm dam. There’s a smaller pool for kids and as well as a jungle gym.
If you’re considering one of the fence stands, first drive along the fence to see if you can find a spot.
SHINGWEDZI Mopane farm
Judging by the giant mopane trees littered about, Shingwedzi stands out head and shoulders above the rest. And there are neat stands to boot.
It’s not, however, the mopanes that draw the attention. Shingwedzi is the first of the Kruger’s camps that allocates fence stands beforehand – and you pay more for these stands.
The 26 stands are numbered with a few fixed bricks with a number painted on it. Because you stand against the fence in a row, you’re right on your neighbours doorstep, but it’s a small price to pay for your uninterrupted view through the fence. The other half of the stands – 32 of them – lie behind the fence stands and it’s noticeable how much space you have around you when you camp, even when the campsite is full.
The electricity points are scattered all over, and at first it doesn’t bother you because you can find a spot close to one. But on some of the stands you have to use your extra long extension cord. Cars driving over it can mean the end of your cord, and of course there’s the added danger of a short circuit. But the power boxes and circuit breakers look new. Some of the fixed steel braais have a swinging grid, but there are also loose-standing units that you can move closer to your stand.
The location of the bathrooms is slightly weird. One of the buildings is in an area as you drive into the camp and the other one near the middle but outside the borders of the campsite. It’s opposite the road between the chalets, but at least you have a choice and there are facilities for the disabled. The showers are similar to those at Satara and equally cramped. The laundry is at the other bathroom – be patient because campers sometimes forget their clothes in the machines and you have to come check when you can have a turn.
One of the Kruger’s typical square kitchens is on the pool side of the campsite and the other one closer to the middle. Unlike Satara’s small pool, Shingwedzi’s one could hardly be bigger. The gate of the fenced-in pool is between the top stands, on the opposite side of the bottom bathrooms. When the sun starts setting the kids can continue playing because there’s a big spotlight next to the pool that turns on automatically as soon as it’s dark. You’re allowed to swim until 9 pm.
There’s a big spotlight next to the pool that turns on automatically as soon as it’s dark.
PUNDA MARIA King of the north
Punda Maria is the northernmost campsite in the Kruger, and here you camp just a few kilometres from the Zimbabwian and Mozambican borders. It’s laid out on the foot of a hill, and as you pass the filling station after the gate you climb a steep road to the office. But unhitch first before you drive to the office. The stands are down to the left and there’s a sign next to the road that says caravans are not allowed to go up. If you happen to miss the sign you will be able to turn at the top in the parking area, but you’ll probably have to unhitch, turn around, and then hitch again.
The stands are just as spacious and spaced out as those at Shingwedzi, but against the fence some of the stands are on top of each other and others are more private.
If you don’t arrive in time to get a fence stand, there’s a consolation prize: There are sections against the fence where you’re not allowed to pitch, which means that those standing further back will also get >
a chance to see animals next to the camp. There’s a storey-high bird hide with a thatch roof next to the fence with a great view of the waterhole next to it. On both sides of the hide, a good 20 m on each side, you’re not allowed to pitch. In our case people camped about 10 m in front of us, and the fence was about 30 m further but we could easily see the elephants cooling down in the muddy water.
As with the previous campsites, the braais and the electricity points are scattered about and there are quite a few shade trees. But, again: If you’re dependent on electricity the length of your extension cord will mean the difference between shade and sun.
One of the bathrooms is diagonally across from the hide and the other one between the campsite and the footpath where you walk up to the office. In stark contrast to the slate stone at the other bathrooms in the Kruger, these ones still have white tiles, which reminds you a bit of an old government building. It’s clean though and there are also mirrors against the wall. The tilework is repeated in the shower cubicle, and it’s also cramped with a curtain that can be bothersome. The pool is opposite this and the laundry facility is just above the bathrooms, but some of the machines have seen better days and don’t work anymore. Remember your R5 coins.
WATCH OUT, CROCK! The swimming pool offers welcome respite during unbearably hot weather. The power points for some of the stands are located so far away that you’ll need to bring quite a long extension cord if you’re going to need electricity and you’re camping on one of those stands.
KEEP ‘EM PEELED. Make sure you try to see as many different animals as possible on the way to Punda Maria. When you get there it will be difficult to peel your eyes away from the waterhole next to the fence. Here the animals come and go as they please all day, every day.
WITH THE NAKED EYE. At Punda Maria the animals come so close to the fence that you won’t even need binoculars to get an eyeful.